The Insider: Rise to the challenge and save a bit of dough on breadmakers

There can be a surprising amount of salt in shop-bought bread: eating just two slices of a normal branded, medium-sliced, white loaf could give you just over 15 per cent of your recommended daily intake. So, whether you're looking to reduce your salt intake, or just want to enjoy the smell and taste of freshly baked bread, you might want to think about baking your own.

A stylish breadmaker packed full of programs and features can be bought for around £100, but you don't have to pay all that to get your hands on a decent machine. Good models are available for between £40 and £80, and supermarket own-brand ones are even cheaper.

"You can save money by making your own bread, but the big benefit is that you can choose exactly what ingredients you use, which means you can limit your intake of salt or sugar," says Martyn Hocking, editor of Which? "Baking your own bread can also be more satisfying than buying it, and there's nothing like the smell of freshly baked bread in the morning."

Breadmakers can produce white, brown, wholemeal and granary loaves, and some can produce a variety of speciality breads as well. They usually offer a variety of baking programs, and you can select different loaf sizes or crust finishes. Alternatively, if you want to make bread rolls, buns or croissants, you can use a breadmaker to do all the labour-intensive kneading and then remove the dough, leave it to rise and bake it in the oven.

Nearly all breadmakers can also bake cakes, and come with a selection of recipes to get your started. Most machines don't mix the ingredients though, so you'll have to do any stirring, beating and folding yourself, with the breadmaker only taking care of the baking cycle. You can also use them to make jam and knead pasta dough. Morphy Richards' 48271 Accents breadmaker (£90, pictured below left) scored highest in Which?'s latest test. It was praised by testers for being easy to use and baking particularly good bread, even on the "rapid bake" setting, though at 1 hour 38 minutes the program is not as rapid as some other models, and the machine is also quite heavy.

Another high scorer was the Panasonic SD-254 (£78, pictured left), which produced good quality bread across the board and excellent cakes. A slight drawback is that there's no viewing window, so you can't keep your eye on the bread, and there's no dispenser for nuts or raisins if you want to make speciality bread. The Panasonic SD-255 is almost identical but comes with a dispenser for adding extra ingredients.

Where to buy

Most high street, independent and online retailers now stock breadmakers. The ranges change every couple of years so you could find a bargain when new models first hit the shelves. You can also check out stockists and compare the latest prices using Which?'s price comparison service www.whichcompare.co.uk.

Questions to ask

How versatile is it?

If you're keen to bake cakes, make jam or mix pasta dough, do your research before you buy to check that the model you choose is up to the job.

How many programs does it have?

Most breadmakers will allow you to choose from a range of loaf sizes and crust shades, and have a range of programs for baking with different types of flour and producing different styles of bread.

What timer settings does it have?

It usually takes around three hours to bake a loaf, but a rapid bake setting can do the job much quicker – sometimes in under an hour. A long delay timer means that you should be able to set your machine before you go to bed and wake up to freshly made bread the following morning.

What colours does it come in?

There's not much choice of finishes – usually white or stainless steel – but one of these two finishes will complement most kitchens. Look for a viewing window if you want to check how well it is rising while it bakes.

The Insider is written by Which?, the independent consumer champion. For more information go to www.which.co.uk/breadmakers. To get three issues of Which? magazine for a special price of £3, call 01992 822800 and quote INADVICE.

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